Earlier this month, Parliament debated Scotland’s continuing relationship with Malawi in the build up to the bicentenary of David Livingstone’s birth.
Dr Livingstone, a missionary and explorer, visited Malawi in the 1850s and initiated a sense of cooperation and friendship between the two countries that has continued to grow over the following 150+ years.
This friendship was formalised in 2005, when the then Scottish Executive entered into an agreement with the Malawian Government to work together and share expertise. Particular areas of focus were civic governance, economic development, health and education.
Alongside this partnership at Government level, relationships have also developed between individual Scottish organisations like schools and churches and their counterparts and projects in Malawi.
MSPs from across the Chamber spoke about examples from their own area and there was recognition of the work of the previous and current administrations in initiating and developing the links further.
As the closing Labour speaker, I had the opportunity to reflect on the points made by other MSPs in what was a very consensual debate. (You can watch my speech in the video above from 25 mins 55 secs in).
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be part of a Scottish Parliament delegation that visited Malawi. I saw for myself the practical impact of support from the Scottish Government, civic organisations and charities that are based in Scotland.
Many speakers spoke of the achievements that have been realised in terms of improving standards of living with better health care and education. I paid tribute to the countless retired teachers and doctors who have gone to Malawi to offer their expertise to small communities.
As well as celebrating the progress that has been made, however, the debate was also an opportunity to highlight the issues that still need to be addressed to tackle the inequalities that continue to exist in Malawi.
There was warm support across the Chamber for the election of President Joyce Banda earlier this year. Since coming to power earlier this year, she has taken a strong stance on a wide range of equality issues including women’s representation and the education of young girls. There was also support for the Scotland Malawi Partnership and their work to launch a Gender Equality Forum which will seek to ensure gender issues cut across the various relationships between our countries.
The issue of climate change and energy also featured prominently in the debate with stark statistics that 93% of Malawi’s population do not have access to electricity. Many households rely on chopping wood to burn for heat and cooking. This has implications not only in terms of climate change but also on people’s health.
Research has shown that countries in the developing world, such as Malawi, will be hit hardest by climate change. Increases in temperature and rainfall will affect the agricultural sector which employs many while the country’s infrastructure is not well prepared to deal with the sort of extreme weather events that are predicted. The availability of clean water, which we can often take for granted, will be a key challenge. Part of our role in our relationship with Malawi must be to develop a fairer and more environmentally sustainable economy.
The debate demonstrated the massive support across the Parliament for doing more and for building on what has been done not just by the Government but by civic society and individuals. By working together, all of us can make an impact and a contribution. That is what the debate was all about—how the Parliament can make a contribution to global justice and climate justice. Doing our bit means doing our bit in Scotland and helping in Malawi, too.